Tarun Tahiliani on TT.DIY


Tarun Tahiliani on TT.DIY

He wants you to take his new line of easy separates and make it your own, for god’s sake

By Supriya Dravid  September 11th, 2015

If Tarun Tahiliani weren’t a master couturier, he would have been a badass street-style photographer. His roving eyes never miss anything. They are constantly seeking out trends, ridiculing the try-hards and searching for beauty and utility in everyday life. “Most of the time, what I see is rather disturbing. As people have more money to spend, they seem to have little or no sense of themselves. Only large women seem to be wearing Indian wear; the rest of them are wearing these bootcut jeans or ill-fitted dresses that just don’t suit them. Their hips are too big, the panty line is showing — it’s all too hideous,” he grumbles, as he sips on apple cider, smokes a cigarette and searches for his iPad to show me the video for his new separates line, TT.DIY.

We are sitting in his home-office, a cavernous lair of enviable collectibles from around the world. There’s a lamp with an intricately carved metal snake clutching a bird hanging by his desk. Gorgeous skulls from Bali adorn his walls, while the space is illuminated by beautifully etched ostrich eggs from Durban. He has just wrapped up showcasing his ethereal ‘Our Eclectic New World’ collection at BMW India Bridal Fashion Week, where model and actor Lisa Haydon walked the ramp for him. “Most of the press know fuck-all about fashion and are only interested in the showstopper. So as a designer, it’s a hard place to be in,” he says, in-between reviewing the show with his team. “Why wasn’t there smoke on both sides of the ramp like there was meant to be?” he asks his assistant to find out.

Despite that lack of smoke, there was a lot of fire; the show was a hit. It encapsulated Tahiliani’s love for layering lightweight garments with delicate Indian artistry, multi-sensory texturing techniques and innovative draping and contouring. Lamenting the fact that heavy embellishments “fancied by the NRI market” have become such a “giant overkill”, Tahiliani says that most brides end up looking nothing like themselves on their wedding day. “They are like a paradoxical version of someone taking part in a costume ball. You don’t always need to end up showing your daddy’s bank balance through your clothes.” Which is why, for this collection, he blended his love for couture and craft — think silk French knots, jaali work, tiny pearls and minuscule Swarovski crystals that were soldered on to the fabrics to create statement-making lehengas, sumptuous jackets, dramatic corsets, second-skin lehenga-sarees and party-ready kurtas. 

These occasion-wear pieces are part of the main line and created as a set. But Tahiliani is now exploring ways to stay relevant in women’s lives over an extended period of time, by creating more than just one key piece in their wardrobe. “Most designers are getting carried away with over-grand visions, but we need to create clothes that make it easier to breathe,” he says. So that was the idea behind TT.DIY, yes? Hell, no. 

Tahiliani is nostalgic for a simpler time. In this Pinterest- and Instagram-obsessed world, he believes people are fed so much imagery that they schizophrenically ape the West and oftentimes, it just doesn’t work. “There are so many badly dressed people today. Isn’t it a travesty that our mothers looked better than us 30 years ago because they weren’t trying so hard? It makes me question what we have given up, and why. It makes me wonder if we have failed as fashion designers to keep a connection alive on a more contemporary level,” he says.  

At least he can allow that fashion influencers like himself do have a role to play in this nationwide decline of authentic style — that it may not just be a lack of imagination, but a genuine lack of better, more relatable Indian casual wear options. “If you go to a mall, it’s the same generic crap, and a handful of shops selling their version of overblown kitsch as Indian wear, which it most definitely is not! Indian casual wear doesn’t have to be the typical boho, Goa gypsy-inspired crinkled skirt. That’s too colourful, too fruity for a corporate world. It won’t work.” This is why he respects the work of younger designers like Aneeth Arora of péro, Rina Singh of Eka and Amit Aggarwal who are making clothes “that reflect the lives they lead.”  

 

If he felt so strongly about how badly Indian women dress, why did he wait so long to launch this collection? “I don’t know,” he shrugs. “We had done ready-to-wear in the past, but we just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Then we got carried away on a journey, but now I wanted to sit back and examine our way forward. Plus, my sons have joined the business. There’s new perspective on board. I am sure Ritu Kumar, for example, couldn’t have done Label so successfully without [her son] Amrish.” 

Enter TT.DIY. The 70-piece collection — which will be launched in October and available in stores next spring — includes exquisitely-tailored dhoti pants, pleated jumpsuits, draped dupattas, peplum gilets, capes and capelets, roomy palazzos, luxe ombré cashmeres, crop tops that can double up as cholis and kalidar kurtas that can be worn as dresses. “Or even with a corset,” he adds. Easy silhouettes — in materials like imported jerseys, crinkle-free handloom mixes as well as fine wool — with generous sprinklings of Tahiliani’s signature drapes and a pared-down colour palette make these clothes universal in appeal and representative of India in an understated way. 

What makes the collection unique is that it allows endless possibilities for people to pick any separate and tell any story they want to. “That’s really what this line is about,” he says, happily. “The way it engages with everyday life, and the way it can be treated with so many combinations and permutations. I mean, come on, how long are we going to live this life where everyone is styled? What about your own style?” Tahiliani is clear about one thing: these are not statement pieces. These are beautifully cut clothes, not based on seasonal trends, which adds to their longevity. “Ideally, these pieces should stick around in your closet like a good Armani sweater from 20 years ago, something that gets better with more wear.” 

 

The inspiration for the line came from everywhere. “I’m always photographing Indians wherever I go,” says Tahiliani. In the hills, where women mix and match their sweaters with skirts and shawls. At the Kumbh Mela; he shows me a picture he clicked because he loved the way a sadhu had tied his dhoti. “This is a beautiful inspiration for me to make a simple skirt with something gauzy underneath,” he says. Another favourite hunting ground is the airport, “surrounded by a mass of humanity.” He skims through his phone for an image of an old woman wearing a bright floral kurta and skirt — “Grandmothers dressed infinitely better than their grandchildren because they have remained true to themselves.” 

Tahiliani believes that designers are not absolved of responsibility; they have work to do. “Sure, we can all create full ensembles that hark back to royal India, and there is a place for that. But we need to absorb from life around us, too. Why not use ideas and techniques from Kathiawad, Kutch and Bengal, and make them more contemporary? That’s the space we need to explore.” 

The TT.DIY line is cannily priced, starting at Rs 3,000 for a draped scarf, and going up to Rs 11,000 for a tunic, with the cashmere being priced around Rs 15,000. What is the age group he has in mind? Ambitiously, 18 to 70. “Why not? I want to open the brand up to an entire section of customers for whom these clothes are reflective of the ethos of a modern Indian. Fashion ought to exist for a lifestyle.” He’s on his way to creating just that.  

Photographs: Manasi Sawant; Model: Erika Packard/Toabh Talents; Make-up and Hair: Mitesh Rajani; Styling: Neha Salvi

If Tarun Tahiliani weren’t a master couturier, he would have been a badass street-style photographer. His roving eyes never miss anything. They are constantly seeking out trends, ridiculing the try-hards and searching for beauty and utility in everyday life. “Most of the time, what I see is rather disturbing. As people have more money to spend, they seem to have little or no sense of themselves. Only large women seem to be wearing Indian wear; the rest of them are wearing these bootcut jeans or ill-fitted dresses that just don’t suit them. Their hips are too big, the panty line is showing — it’s all too hideous,” he grumbles, as he sips on apple cider, smokes a cigarette and searches for his iPad to show me the video for his new separates line, TT.DIY.

We are sitting in his home-office, a cavernous lair of enviable collectibles from around the world. There’s a lamp with an intricately carved metal snake clutching a bird hanging by his desk. Gorgeous skulls from Bali adorn his walls, while the space is illuminated by beautifully etched ostrich eggs from Durban. He has just wrapped up showcasing his ethereal ‘Our Eclectic New World’ collection at BMW India Bridal Fashion Week, where model and actor Lisa Haydon walked the ramp for him. “Most of the press know fuck-all about fashion and are only interested in the showstopper. So as a designer, it’s a hard place to be in,” he says, in-between reviewing the show with his team. “Why wasn’t there smoke on both sides of the ramp like there was meant to be?” he asks his assistant to find out.

Despite that lack of smoke, there was a lot of fire; the show was a hit. It encapsulated Tahiliani’s love for layering lightweight garments with delicate Indian artistry, multi-sensory texturing techniques and innovative draping and contouring. Lamenting the fact that heavy embellishments “fancied by the NRI market” have become such a “giant overkill”, Tahiliani says that most brides end up looking nothing like themselves on their wedding day. “They are like a paradoxical version of someone taking part in a costume ball. You don’t always need to end up showing your daddy’s bank balance through your clothes.” Which is why, for this collection, he blended his love for couture and craft — think silk French knots, jaali work, tiny pearls and minuscule Swarovski crystals that were soldered on to the fabrics to create statement-making lehengas, sumptuous jackets, dramatic corsets, second-skin lehenga-sarees and party-ready kurtas. 

These occasion-wear pieces are part of the main line and created as a set. But Tahiliani is now exploring ways to stay relevant in women’s lives over an extended period of time, by creating more than just one key piece in their wardrobe. “Most designers are getting carried away with over-grand visions, but we need to create clothes that make it easier to breathe,” he says. So that was the idea behind TT.DIY, yes? Hell, no. 

Tahiliani is nostalgic for a simpler time. In this Pinterest- and Instagram-obsessed world, he believes people are fed so much imagery that they schizophrenically ape the West and oftentimes, it just doesn’t work. “There are so many badly dressed people today. Isn’t it a travesty that our mothers looked better than us 30 years ago because they weren’t trying so hard? It makes me question what we have given up, and why. It makes me wonder if we have failed as fashion designers to keep a connection alive on a more contemporary level,” he says.  

At least he can allow that fashion influencers like himself do have a role to play in this nationwide decline of authentic style — that it may not just be a lack of imagination, but a genuine lack of better, more relatable Indian casual wear options. “If you go to a mall, it’s the same generic crap, and a handful of shops selling their version of overblown kitsch as Indian wear, which it most definitely is not! Indian casual wear doesn’t have to be the typical boho, Goa gypsy-inspired crinkled skirt. That’s too colourful, too fruity for a corporate world. It won’t work.” This is why he respects the work of younger designers like Aneeth Arora of péro, Rina Singh of Eka and Amit Aggarwal who are making clothes “that reflect the lives they lead.”  

 

If he felt so strongly about how badly Indian women dress, why did he wait so long to launch this collection? “I don’t know,” he shrugs. “We had done ready-to-wear in the past, but we just couldn’t keep up with the demand. Then we got carried away on a journey, but now I wanted to sit back and examine our way forward. Plus, my sons have joined the business. There’s new perspective on board. I am sure Ritu Kumar, for example, couldn’t have done Label so successfully without [her son] Amrish.” 

Enter TT.DIY. The 70-piece collection — which will be launched in October and available in stores next spring — includes exquisitely-tailored dhoti pants, pleated jumpsuits, draped dupattas, peplum gilets, capes and capelets, roomy palazzos, luxe ombré cashmeres, crop tops that can double up as cholis and kalidar kurtas that can be worn as dresses. “Or even with a corset,” he adds. Easy silhouettes — in materials like imported jerseys, crinkle-free handloom mixes as well as fine wool — with generous sprinklings of Tahiliani’s signature drapes and a pared-down colour palette make these clothes universal in appeal and representative of India in an understated way. 

What makes the collection unique is that it allows endless possibilities for people to pick any separate and tell any story they want to. “That’s really what this line is about,” he says, happily. “The way it engages with everyday life, and the way it can be treated with so many combinations and permutations. I mean, come on, how long are we going to live this life where everyone is styled? What about your own style?” Tahiliani is clear about one thing: these are not statement pieces. These are beautifully cut clothes, not based on seasonal trends, which adds to their longevity. “Ideally, these pieces should stick around in your closet like a good Armani sweater from 20 years ago, something that gets better with more wear.” 

 

The inspiration for the line came from everywhere. “I’m always photographing Indians wherever I go,” says Tahiliani. In the hills, where women mix and match their sweaters with skirts and shawls. At the Kumbh Mela; he shows me a picture he clicked because he loved the way a sadhu had tied his dhoti. “This is a beautiful inspiration for me to make a simple skirt with something gauzy underneath,” he says. Another favourite hunting ground is the airport, “surrounded by a mass of humanity.” He skims through his phone for an image of an old woman wearing a bright floral kurta and skirt — “Grandmothers dressed infinitely better than their grandchildren because they have remained true to themselves.” 

Tahiliani believes that designers are not absolved of responsibility; they have work to do. “Sure, we can all create full ensembles that hark back to royal India, and there is a place for that. But we need to absorb from life around us, too. Why not use ideas and techniques from Kathiawad, Kutch and Bengal, and make them more contemporary? That’s the space we need to explore.” 

The TT.DIY line is cannily priced, starting at Rs 3,000 for a draped scarf, and going up to Rs 11,000 for a tunic, with the cashmere being priced around Rs 15,000. What is the age group he has in mind? Ambitiously, 18 to 70. “Why not? I want to open the brand up to an entire section of customers for whom these clothes are reflective of the ethos of a modern Indian. Fashion ought to exist for a lifestyle.” He’s on his way to creating just that.  

Photographs: Manasi Sawant; Model: Erika Packard/Toabh Talents; Make-up and Hair: Mitesh Rajani; Styling: Neha Salvi